On the Ecological/Web City/Paradigm

Gormley, Collected Sculptures

The representation of the ecological/web city or paradigm is in many ways its imagination.  We are very much still in the paradigm of a city – a world – dependent on (and with the privileges and disadvantages of) using mass stores of energy in fossil fuels.  Time and distance have compressed, and in the process we have largely lost an understanding of restraint and the constraints of the natural world.  As a result we find ourselves in need of a new paradigm, one that is not entirely new (as it returns to some extent to a balance with nature achieved by some societies in the past) and simultaneously must address wholly new concerns and thus prevents a nostalgic return (as we now must address the needs of unprecedented numbers and with the tools/privileges/responsibilities engendered by modern technology and science).  Yet though this world is not entirely new, the representation of the ecological/web paradigm (or however we come to term it) is nevertheless an exploration of the potential, the perhaps, the world as it is not yet.  And so in effort to give form to these ideas, I have included below what I think may constitute this new citytype/paradigm at the human, building, city, and world scale.

What I believe will be a defining characteristic of this paradigm is a figure/field relationship that, while still recognizing the individual, understands that the individual is of the same material/essence as its surroundings, what to me is jointly Buddhist and scientific.  In the realm of the representation of the human, in the history of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man or Corbusier’s Modulor, I can think of no better representation for the human in the ecological/web paradigm than Antony Gormley’s sculptural series entitled “Feeling Material.”  He writes on his website that many of the sculptures in this series are created through a matrix of rings, which uses an “unending spiraling line that span[s] a web around the body, orbiting close to the skin and then spiraling out into space: an energy zone.”  The body is visible in the field, but very much a part of it, and the boundaries between the individual and the environment – of the same material – become indistinct.

Gormley, Sculpture in "Feeling Material" Series

At the building level, I believe that the return of/to nature is paramount.  More specifically, instead of imagining the building or street as separate from nature, it becomes instead new ground; the artificial enables the natural, and in turn, through not only awareness of natural cycles but as their “aid,” we reject the concept as being distinct from nature and instead help enable its processes in our built environments.  The figure remains, but it is dissolved and acts as enabler.  To this end, I have included what has been new ground before – the ruins of Ta Prohm at Angkor in Cambodia – which, like many other former temples and cities, has become a base for the natural.  Although this image represents to an extent a collapsed society, it is nevertheless a hopeful one – that through this understanding, a sustained society can exist and can create environments that not only enables its own livelihood, but that of other systems.

Alex Dally MacFarlane, Ta Prohm, Cambodia (via alexdallymacfarlane.com)

Alex Dally MacFarlane, Ta Prohm, Cambodia (via alexdallymacfarlane.com)

Approaching the city scale, I would further the two previous representations with the addition of the concept of decentralized centralization.  Through decentralization, the hierarchies of former cities and organizations begin to dissolve and democratize, but in terms of city form, this is joined by smaller centralizations to enable very basic urban needs: walkability, access to transit, et cetera, all the while maintaining connections to one another and permitting the infiltration of the natural.  To this end, I include Richard Register’s drawing of a modified San Francisco, a city in centers that are connected to one another and separated, with nature and agriculture filling the interstitial spaces and its surroundings.

Register, Ecocity (San Francisco as Decentralized Centralized Units)

Register, Ecocity (San Francisco as Decentralized Centralized Units)

Finally, the new representation of the world would not be complete without its gradual broadening in scope and scientific exploration.  As the map expanded to include the “New” World, so too must the map expand to include the world’s place in the universe.  As we do not know the nature of the universe or its form or number of dimensions, this map below cannot expand beyond our paradigm – but it can demonstrate what we do know: that we are a part of a much larger system, and that we can begin to give the components within it names.

Earth in Universe (via shareme.com)

Earth in Universe (via shareme.com)

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